Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Teachable Moment

Remember back to the last time you realized that you were lacking a specific skill. Perhaps you were tackling a software… or a career skill important for your job… or a life-skill like cooking or home maintenance… or a hobby-skill. When someone realizes that they need to learn something, a teachable moment has occurred.

There are several essential elements to this moment:

1. The learner (you/me/anyone) has received feedback that creates an ah-ha moment when it is clear that something key is missing.
2. For the moment to be a teachable moment, the gap must be clear.
3. Resources are available to allow the learner to move forward.

Let’s look at that again.

Feedback is important. Without feedback there is no information that says to the learner “you need to change.” Without a need to change, there is no motivation to learn. The more important the desired change, the greater the personal motivation to “learn.”

Either the feedback itself or the learner’s reflection on that feedback must lead to a clear picture of the gap and what is needed in order to cross that gap. That is learners need to see clearly their current skill level as well as seeing the desired skill level. Skills gaps that appear to be attainable are more motivating than those that appear unattainable. However, some individuals are very motivated by the apparently unattainable, while others are very de-motivated by even the smallest degree of challenge in that skills gap.

Between feedback and awareness of need come a cascade of emotions. For many, any awareness that they are less than perfect feels punitive – is hurtful or creates a sense of losing face or losing authority. At times, the specific skill gap involved brings up deep seated feelings of pain. Individuals who say that they “love to learn” often embrace the feeling of having a void and dig deep for the feeling of success derived from previous teachable moments and learning actions. Dealing with the feelings may need to be part of the learning involved.

This is when resources come into play. Resources can help learners organize the steps to learning, making the learning more attainable. Resources can run a wide range of options; they might include another person (a teacher), a job aid (step-by-step guides, process charts, checklists, etc.), or just a library of possible options. Without resources, there is no “teach” in the teachable. Resources are the source of the information about successfully bridging the skill gap.

And, resources may be the feedback that drives out the need for the next level of change. Around we go to more learning.
Now try identifying three or four times when you experienced a teachable moment as the learner. Can you identify what caused the ah-ha moment (the feedback), what you felt during that cascade of emotions that came with the ah-ha, and the resources that gave you courage to cross the gap to learn?

Can you identify one time when the resources you needed were not available? What happened when you were aware of a need but could not act on it? How did you feel? What action (or inaction) did you take?

Now try it from the other side. Identify three or four times when you were the present at someone else’s teachable moment. You might have provided the feedback that caused them to realize that they had a gap or you might have provided some of the resources or both. What actions or behaviors told you that this person had just moved from unmotivated to learn to very motivated to learn?

Watch for teachable moments. They happen to all of us regardless of age, gender, race, religion, ability/disability, job title, wealth, or any other classification we could invent. Teachable moments are part of our humanity.